Word of the Week – Contentment

Word of the Week – Contentment

In our Word of the Week, Pastor Rob Sauers takes us through a study of contentment. Contentment seems to be one of those things a lot of people search for, but never find. Can we ever find true contentment? If so, where is that contentment to be found? Our study seeks to answer these questions by looking at both the places where people look for contentment and what the Scriptures have to say about the subject. We pray that this study will be a blessing to you.

CPR – Where Do Babies (and Faith) Come From?

CPR – Where Do Babies (and Faith) Come From?

Faith is one of those topics that is very often misunderstood in our world today. The Bible itself, while speaking a lot about faith, only defines it in one place – Hebrews 11:1 – “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” In order to help us gain a better understanding of what faith is and specifically how faith begins, Pastors Neal Radichel and Nathanael Mayhew take us through a discussion of faith in today’s CPR episode from a unique perspective – comparing the beginning of faith to the beginning of physical life. We pray that this study will help you to better understand this important concept.

Word of the Week – Petition

Word of the Week – Petition

In our Word of the Week this week, Pastor Rob Sauers takes us through the word “petition.” When we hear that word, we might think first of a formal written request signed by many people, appealing to authority in respect of a cause. In a petition, we are pleading to one in authority to do something we would like to see done.

The Bible speaks of petitions in the formal setting of the court. We have the example of Esther making her petitions known to King Ahasuerus. In the New Testament, the Jews petitioned Festus to execute the Apostle Paul.

The Bible also uses “petition” in the sense of prayer. When we think of petitions in this context, we probably most often think of the seven petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. In this prayer, Jesus gives us a wonderful example of how we should bring our petitions before the Lord.

And we can do so with confidence. Though we are not worthy that God should answer any of our petitions, yet we have the promise from our gracious God, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7). Surely, God will answer our prayers according to His will out of His grace and His love for us.

And so, we can do what Paul encourages in Philippians 4:6 – “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”

May God bless our study.

Bible Study – 2 Peter

Bible Study – 2 Peter

In today’s Bible Study episode, Pastors Nathanael Mayhew and Rob Sauers take us through the book of 2 Peter. Peter here sets out to encourage his recipients and us in our faith, and warn us of others who would try to lead us away from the truth. This has been called the “Epistle of Knowledge” since different forms of the word “know” appear 16 times in this short letter. Chapter 1 encourages growth in true knowledge and emphasizes that the knowledge of the Scriptures is true. Chapter 2 describes the perils of abandoning knowledge. Chapter 3 gives us reason for confidence in true knowledge. We pray that this study will encourage you to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18).

YOLO

YOLO

You only live once, right?  You’ve no doubt heard this said many times, and there’s a good chance you’ve even said it yourself.  (I know that I have.) This phrase is often written as “YOLO” on social networking platforms like Facebook and Twitter. But is YOLO true?

Of course not! We know that everyone lives twice, not once.  The second life is in either heaven or hell.  It’s no surprise that unbelievers take to YOLO so readily.  As long as they reject the gospel of Christ, the only good and beautiful things they can ever hope to experience are here on earth.  So most of them conclude that the only reason to go on living is to experience as much as they can of what makes them feel good.  They realize their time is short and don’t want to waste it being unhappy.  The meaning of YOLO is “forget and throw off whatever makes you sad and frustrated, and do what makes you happy while you have the chance.  Soon the good stuff will all be gone.”

Christians, too, can get sucked into this even though we know it’s wrong and not even true.  YOLO is the idea snuck into the words “a once in a lifetime opportunity.”  Do we really believe that things this rare, and things even far more exciting, won’t be found in heaven??  YOLO has bad consequences, too.  Say we have a “once in a lifetime” chance to do something and then the opportunity is suddenly taken away from us. Then we feel all kinds of unchristian emotions which probably grow into ungodly words and behavior.  Or perhaps we just don’t have money to go on that vacation we always wanted, and every time we get close to saving up the funds the bills come piling in and we don’t get what we think we “ought” to have. Sometimes we worry that our lives will be “ruined,” as if earth was our only chance to experience pleasure, excitement, and fun, and that heaven can’t possibly be as enjoyable as earth.  And when someone dies younger than they “should,” we might find ourselves taking comfort in thoughts like “at least he lived a good life while he was around,” as if this is the key element to mitigate the facts of “untimely” death.  In these and more ways, we betray a hypocritical allegiance to the YOLO philosophy even while we know it isn’t true. Why do we do that?

Lot’s wife can give us a clue.  She was living in a thriving city in a rich and fertile plain (Gen 13:10-12, Luke 17:28), and all of a sudden God was taking her away from that life towards a future in a tiny town near the mountains. (Gen 19)  God’s angels said that her life would be spared the coming destruction only if she left everything behind, yet everything she saw about her new life outside of Sodom looked bleak and depressing to her.  So she looked back in her heart towards Sodom, turned her gaze there, and suffered the fate of the Sodomites.

We Christians can be a lot like Lot’s wife.  Satan works double time to make sure our concept of heaven looks as bleak and barren as life outside of Sodom looked to Lot’s wife, and that our picture of earth glitters and dances with fun times, good food, and beautiful things (YOLO).  And when we picture heaven we might think of the huge crowds of saints and angles pictured in Revelation singing praises to God in endless worship and then think to ourselves, “I really don’t want to be in church all day.”  And if we think about living properly as Christians on earth, Satan tries to get us to focus on all the trouble that Jesus promised would come to us (John 16:33), coupled with the uncomfortable moments that come with being a confessing Christian in a depraved world. We are tempted to see God’s way and time with God in heaven and on earth as barely anything to look forward to, and the things our hearts long for tend to revolve around the same things the world chases after.  In short, we are drawn to the YOLO philosophy whenever the world and its ways seem more pleasurable to us than God and his ways.

Yes, Lot’s wife lives inside every one of us, and that’s why Jesus warned us to “remember her.” (Luke 17:32) His next words apply the possibility of her fate to us: “whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” (Luke 17:33) Lot’s wife tried to keep her life, but she lost it.  Lot was willing to lose his life and he kept it. We simply have to be willing to give up everything we love and would live for here on earth (Luke 14:26-33!) in order to claim the title of “Christian.”  It is the second life that is at stake here, not the earthly one: “What profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?”  (Mt 16:25-26) We can seek the things of the world as our source of life and help or we can seek life in Jesus. And if we try to have the best of both we end up with nothing: “no man can serve two masters.  Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and money.” (Mt 6:24)

Avoiding a life based on the pursuit of pleasure is difficult for us.  We slog through our shifts at work in hopes of getting home at the end of the day to enjoy fun times, good food and beautiful things.  We begin to live for the weekend, or our upcoming vacation.  As this attitude sticks around, we tend to get depressed and irritable when the weekends and good times go “missing” from our lives. Satan is always working to get us to think, “my time on earth is about having fun and doing things for myself.”   We make a mistake when we use the pleasures of the world to take relief from all the burdens and crosses in our lives instead of finding our comfort in the fact that we already possess the riches of heaven, and only have to wait a little longer to experience it.

It’s not wrong to enjoy the earthly comforts and pleasures God gave us.  But it is both wrong and deadly to live for them.  “You ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”  (James 4:3)  The one “who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives.” (1 Tim 5:6)  Living for things is also stupid because we are powerless to obtain anything we need for life.  We acquire things large or small only through the generosity of our Father.  Instead of trusting in the gifts God gives us (e.g., money, health, availability of good employment and national security), we need to trust in God himself.  This attitude looks past things to the One who creates and distributes things according to his will.  This makes the truly Christian outlook a thankful one, and it comes with the side effects of happiness and peace.  Praying “your will be done” implies the intention of surrendering control over your life and placing yourself into the security of God’s will, not the things God gives us.  We “ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” (James 4:15) If this is our attitude we will be able to say with Job, “shall we accept good from God, and not trouble? The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised!”  (Job 2:10; 1:21)  If we anchor our joy to the relentless unfolding of God’s will on earth as in heaven, then nothing will be able to take away our joy because nothing can move the will of God.

YOLO philosophy is always about the first life (earth).  We stumble over it anytime heaven becomes less important to us than earth.  So the obvious way to combat the dangers of YOLO is to make a habit of reminding ourselves about heaven and encouraging ourselves to look forward to it.  If, at times, you find it difficult to look forward to heaven, it helps to compare life there with life here.  Pay attention every time you complain about something, or feel sad or frustrated.  Trace backwards and find the root causes of your sorrow, anxiety, pain, exhaustion, and struggle.  Then imagine what life would be like without these sources of trouble and let that help shape your vision of what living in heaven will be like.  The more you do this the more you’ll realize just how cursed is your life here on earth, and the more you’ll realize how good life in heaven will be.  The greater the curse, the greater the blessing of its removal.  Just as Jesus tied the magnitude of a Christian’s love to his awareness of how much sin he has been forgiven (Luke 7:47), so too is it the case that the more aware we are of God’s curse and evil things frustrating our lives now on earth (Gen 3:14-19; Rom 8:20, 22), the more we will desire to be in the place where “there will no longer be any curse.” (Rev 22:3)  “He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev 21:4)  “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise!” (Luke 23:43)

“No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground.  He comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found.”  (Joy to the World, verse 3)  “From now those who use the things of this world [should continue,] but as if not engrossed in them.”  (1 Cor 7:31) “Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven.  And we eagerly await a savior from there.” (Phil 3:19-20)

Happy 500th!

Happy 500th!

Today is Reformation Day and, as I’m sure you know by now, not just any ordinary Reformation anniversary. It’s 500 years from the day that Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Reformation Day is rightly one of the high festivals in the Lutheran Church. It was such an important movement to restoring the unconditional gospel of Jesus Christ that for many years was shrouded in mysticism and ritualism. But, anyone with just a little knowledge about the Reformation knows that in 1517 things had hardly been fixed. In fact, the Reformation was just beginning. Why, then, celebrate this date as its anniversary? Wouldn’t a later date, when everything finally settled down, be more appropriate?

In 1517, Luther was still wrestling in his heart about the true nature of God and his relationship with God. Many of the 95 Theses Luther penned were contaminated with false teaching. At this time he still confessed allegiance to the Roman Church and the papacy. In fact, in 1518, in a document which defended his 95 Theses, Luther wrote this about Pope Leo X: “Finally, we now have a very good pope, Leo X, whose integrity and learning are a delight to all upright persons. But what can this man who is so worthy of our respect do amidst such confusing circumstances? He is worthy of having become pope in better times, or of having better times during his pontificates.” Just so you know, Leo X eventually declared Luther a heretic and outlaw and excommunicated him in 1521. Clearly, in 1517, God was still maturing Luther’s faith and knowledge.

So, why not wait to celebrate the 500th anniversary of something that happened later, when things weren’t so messy? Well, the answer is simple: it was always and still is messy. There was never a point where Luther finally relaxed because he had finally accomplished everything he wanted. Even days before his death he was still busy refining his German translation of the Bible. After Luther’s death, things got even worse. War broke out in Germany. Regional princes and leaders succumbed to pressures from Rome. Even after peace was restored, major doctrines of the Reformation came under attack almost immediately during the “counter-reformation”. Mass emigrations to the Americas took place in the 1600s and 1700s because of attempts at forced unity between Lutheran and Reformed churches. There has never been a period of outward peace for faithful Christians here on this earth and the Reformation never happened for that purpose, either.

1517 is about as appropriate a date to remember as any because it was the official beginning of the Reformation. For the first time, Luther aired his grievances in public. The courage and boldness that we remember in his fiery spirit was ignited this day. But, let us remember, Luther was always a work in progress, too. He was confident in Christ’s atonement, but the Lord never told him he had finally attained perfection on earth. We, too, are being worked upon by the Holy Spirit day by day; to increase our courage, boldness, and peace by faith. Don’t expect an end to difficulties while this earth remains because you won’t find it. If you’re interested in God’s truth, hardship will be your companion; but more importantly, peace with Christ will be yours too. The blessing of the Reformation, the reason we commemorate it and celebrate it, is because it points to the real solution to sin. The Reformation continues to be a shining beacon to lead desperate people to the cross of Jesus, for renewal and forgiveness; and ultimately to eternal life with God without pain or misery; an age when things will finally change for good. That was and remains its importance in the lives of sinful men and women.

Peace through Jesus be with you today, that’s what Luther would want you to think about!

 

How to Respond to the (Im)morality of God

How to Respond to the (Im)morality of God

Question: Why does is seem like the God of the Old Testament is much more harsh than the God of the New Testament? (For example: The flood wipes out all people but one family; God kills all the first born in Egypt; The Israelites are told to kill entire populations in Canaan; and the death penalty is demanded for several offenses in the Levitical Law.)

Many people have espoused views similar to those described above. The following quote is from Richard Dawkins in his book The God Delusion (p.31). He says that the God of the Old Testament is “arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it, a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

Answer: God is not more harsh in the Old Testament than in the New Testament. God is just, and must judge those who sin against Him. In every example mentioned above, God is judging the sin of human beings. Paul says: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18). God is just as serious about sin in the New Testament as He is in the Old Testament.

Compare the following from the Old and New Testaments:

Old Testament

Ezekiel 18:20 – “The soul who sins shall die.”
Isaiah 3:11 – “Woe to the wicked! It shall be ill with him, For the reward of his hands shall be given him.”
Psalm 37:20 – “But the wicked shall perish; And the enemies of the LORD, Like the splendor of the meadows, shall vanish. Into smoke they shall vanish away.”

New Testament

Romans 6:23 – “For the wages of sin is death.”
1 Corinthians 6:9-10 – “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.”

Yet there is one thing in particular that can help us to understand why the Old Testament records God’s involvement in the particular physical judgment of certain groups of people throughout that period of history.

Keep in mind that the Old Testament covers a much longer period of history than the New Testament. (Over 4,000 years compared to less than 100 years!) From the very beginning of the Old Testament, following the fall into sin, God had promised to send the world a Savior from sin and God’s just judgment against sin. While God repeatedly demonstrates patience toward sinners throughout the Old Testament, God was also acting in history to preserve a remnant of His faithful people in the Old Testament, from which the promised Savior would eventually be born. Throughout the Old Testament God gives us a “behind the scenes” view of His actions in history. Here God describes His work through the lives of people and nations, to judge sin and to preserve a particular people through which He would fulfill His promise of redemption, for the benefit of all people. This difference in time and perspective is the reason why God “seems” to be more harsh in the pages of the Old Testament.

Examples of God’s judgment in the Old Testament

  • The flood wipes out all people but one family – Genesis 6:5
  • Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah – Genesis 18:20
  • God kills all first born in Egypt – Exodus 1:8-22
  • The death penalty for several offenses in the Levitical Law – Leviticus 20:2,9,10-16,27; Deuteronomy 13:10-11
  • Israelites kill entire populations in Canaan – Deuteronomy 7:1-5; 20:16-18; Joshua; Judges; (Compare Genesis 15:16; Leviticus 18:2-30)

God is just as unhappy with sin today as he was in the days of Noah (the flood), Lot (destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah) and Moses (destruction of nations), and sin still brings God’s just judgment. (Compare the death of Herod in Acts 12:23: “Then immediately an angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to God. And he was eaten by worms and died.”) We are all under the death penalty because of our disobedience to God’s laws. At the same time, God is also merciful and has provided a means of salvation for all people in the person of Jesus Christ. Both the Old and the New Testaments are clear about this as well.

Old Testament

Isaiah 52:10 – Indeed He says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob, And to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

New Testament 

1 John 4:9 – “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.”

The God of the Old and New Testaments are one and the same. While the LORD is just and demands that our sin receive its just punishment, He is also merciful, and desires the salvation of every sinner. This He has accomplished by His grace in the person and work of Jesus, and His gift of salvation and eternal life becomes ours through faith in Him. Yes, God hates sin, but He loves the sinner, and He has demonstrated that in Jesus.

CPR – Vocation

CPR – Vocation

In our continuing study of important doctrines of the Reformation, Pastors Nathanael Mayhew and Rob Sauers take us through the Doctrine of Vocation. It has been said that this is one of Luther’s most original contributions to understanding the spiritual life. When we think about vocation, probably the first thing that comes to mind is our job our occupation, but, as we’ll discuss, vocation involves much more. We’ll focus on 1) that Biblical difference between a vocation and an occupation, 2) how God bestows His First Article gives to sinners through vocation, 3) how the Doctrine of Vocation puts the role of good works in its proper place, and 4) how the Doctrine of Vocation gives purpose to our lives in this fallen world. We hope that this study will be a blessing to you!

Word of the Week – Justification

Word of the Week – Justification

As we continue our series of Reformation words for the Word of the Week in October, Pastor Mark Tiefel defines the Biblical word Justification. He discussed justification in its objective and subjective sense. Christ’s death is an objective truth through which all sinners have been declared not guilty before God (Romans 3:23-24, 28; Romans 4:25; Romans 5:18-19) but the benefits of this declaration are received by faith in Christ Jesus (Galatians 2:16) We are all sinful. But through God’s work for sinners in Christ and through faith, we have been justified (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Romans 1:16-17). Thanks be to God! Listen, learn, study and proclaim God’s Word of Truth as faithful heirs of the Reformation!

CPR – The Theology of the Cross

CPR – The Theology of the Cross

Over the next five weeks, our Friday podcast will take up a series covering some of the important doctrines of the Reformation. This week, Pastors Rob Sauers and Nathanael Mayhew take us through “The Theology of the Cross.” This is a term coined by Martin Luther in 1518 in the Heidelberg Disputation that understands the cross as the only source of knowledge concerning who God is and how God saves. It is contrasted with the “Theology of Glory” which places greater emphasis on human abilities and human reason. The Theology of the Cross teaches the truth that God does not reveal Himself to us through displays of glory and signs in the heavens, but through the cross, and through the simple Means of Grace. It also describes the reality of the cross we are called to bear in this world as Jesus says to His disciples in Mark 8:34: “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” Yet that cross is also a blessing as it keeps us running back to the Savior and His cross where we find life and salvation. May the Lord bless our study!